National Folk Festival 2018

April 7th, 2018 | Camping, Canberra, Festivals, Folk clubs, Music, Photos

My Performer Application for the festival was unsuccessful this year, so I bought a ticket. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for ‘walk-up’ poets to perform at the festival.

I headed off with my son, Thomas, on the morning of Good Friday. It’s a long drive from Melbourne to Canberra, but fortunately I still had time to find a camping site, erect the tent, and attend “Poetry in the Round” in a new tent venue, “Festival Hall”. The MCs were Peter Mace and John Peel (see below).

In recent years, this event has been held in The Terrace, a very civilised room in the pavilion above the Sessions Bar. The great advantage of this venue is that it is very quiet and well sound-proofed. Performers in “Festival Hall” were constantly having to compete with the noise from other acts, especially the parade, heading past the front door first one way, then the other. One advantage of this year’s venue was that there is a lot more ‘passing trade’, with a greater likelihood of people dropping in casually to ‘check it out’. The tents can also get very cold at night. Fortunately, Easter in Canberra this year was quite warm.

The Poets’ Breakfast on Saturday morning was a big event, as these Breakfasts always are. There was a new award this year, the “Blue the Shearer Award” for the Best Original Poem. This is being held to honour the life of Col “Blue the Shearer” Wilson, a very popular poet and great friend of the festival, who died last year.

The “Reciter of the Year” award, which continues, is for a recitation from memory, and the reciter does not need to have written the poem. The new award can be read, but the reader must have written it. In other words, it is an award for writing, not performing.

The other new development this year was that the festival feature poets were also eligible to win the wards. The judge for both awards this year was last year’s judge, Chris McGinty, as last year’s winner of the Reciter’s Award, Len “Lenno” Martin, was unable to attend the festival.

Another opportunity to perform presented itself at “Poetry in the Park” on Saturday afternoon. The MC was John Peel (see below).

My friend, Maggie Somerville, arrived on Saturday afternoon, having left Melbourne that morning. We attended “Poetry in the Round” again together in the evening, and each performed a poem.

At the Sunday Breakfast Maggie read “A Deadly Weapon”, her poem about the hazards of trying to smuggle a tin whistle into court.

At 3.30 pm on Sunday, Maggie performed with the Billabong Band from the Victorian Folk Music Club, during their presentation of “Songs of the Victorian Goldfields” at the Trocadero. The band had been thrown into some disarray following the very sad news that the son of two of its most prominent members had died on Good Friday, and they had had to return to Melbourne. Replacements were arranged at short notice, and overall the show went well, but the situation was far from ideal.

Here is the full line-up…

(That’s Maggie in the red hat.)

A very interesting presentation took place in “Festival Hall” on Sunday night as Peter Mace and American cowboy poet Dick Warwick discussed the differences between cowboy poetry and Australian bush poetry. The takeaway message was that there are not a lot of differences, though perhaps the Americans are a little more reverential in their choice of subject matter. Then again, at least as I understand them, Ned Kelly is a far more ambiguous figure than Billy the Kid.

Here are Dick and Peter in animated conversation…

Chris McGinty announced the winners of the awards at the Monday Poets’ Breakfast. John Peel won the “Reciter of the Year” award with a poem he wrote himself, “When Elvis Came Back from the Dead”, which he performed at the Friday Poets’ Breakfast. Peter Mace won the inaugural “Blue the Shearer Award” with his poem about Kerry Stokes buying a VC medal at an auction for a million dollars to keep it in Australia, and then donating it to the National War Museum. (I haven’t found the title yet.)

Congratulations to them both!

Maggie headed back to Melbourne early on Monday morning, and Thomas and I left about midday.

Once again, the National Folk Festival had been very successful, and highly enjoyable!

More Newstead Photos

March 24th, 2018 | Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for children, Songs, Stories for children

Many thanks to Geoffrey Graham for these photos of Maggie Somerville and me performing for children at Newstead Live! this year.

Newstead Live! 2018

January 31st, 2018 | Camping, Festivals, Photos

Last weekend I travelled with Maggie Somerville to Newstead, a small town in central Victoria, for the annual “Newstead Live!” festival that straddles the Australia Day long weekend (when we have one!), and is close to Australia Day when we don’t. Usually the last weekend in January. Just before the schools go back. Something like that.

It was a scramble for me to get home from work after a long day, pack the car, head over to Maggie’s place, pack her stuff (and re-pack the car), then begin the roughly two and a half hour journey up the Calder Highway to the festival reception office and, eventually, our camp-site. It was well after 10 pm when we finally arrived, and we knew we had to be ready, bright and chirpy, for the Poets’ Breakfast at 9 am, followed by our own children’s show at 10.30 am. (Why do we do it? Because we love it!)

The Breakfast was MC’d for the umpteenth time (excellently, I might add) by veteran Melbourne-based reciter Jim Smith.

As always, the show was of a high standard. Here is a sample of the performers.

Carol Reffold

Dominic Martin

John Angliss

Maggie Somerville

The show, as always, was well received.

This was the first year without Andrew and Heather Pattison and their small army of friendly helpers, as Andrew and Heather have now retired from the festival. They were missed – not only because of their smiling faces, but because food and drink was no longer as accessible. We were required instead to make our way to the not-too-distant pavilion where, it must be said, the service was friendly and professional.

Maggie and I had to leave early to make our way across town to “Lilliput”, the child care centre where our children’s show was being staged. It took a little while for the audience to gather, but the show – a mixture of songs written by Maggie and songs written by me, with a couple of my poems thrown in for good measure – went well.

Swinging the billy was a big hit!

We had a chance take a bit of a rest before the “Grumpy Old Poets” at the Anglican Church at 4 pm, where I was MC, and we both performed. The highlight of this ‘come all ye’ poetry event was the thunder and lightning that raged outside. We felt safe and secure inside the little stone church. Little did we know at the time just to what extent we were in fact its victims!

We had dinner at the pub (so Maggie could watch the Women’s Single Final of the Australian Open on the TV – go Caroline!), then bumped into Suzette Herft leading the community singing across the road later in the evening.

Maggie joined in on her whistle.

We returned to our camp-site tired but happy, looking forward to a good night’s sleep before doing it all again the following day.

Alas, the scene that greeted us in front of the headlights of my car gave us quite a shock…

It turns out that my casual attitude to erecting tents had finally caught up with us! The damage had obviously been done during the “Grumpy Old Poets”. The fly had been torn off the tent, and one of the tent poles, thus unsupported, had snapped in the wind. Our bedding was soaked, and puddles of water had gathered on the tent floor. (So that’s whey they attach guy-ropes and loops for pegs to tents…)

I eventually managed to prop the tent up with the shorter pole from the annexe. Searching around for bits of bedding that were merely moist rather than soaked, we managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. (I think I slept better than Maggie did.) Fortunately, it was a warm night.

The next day was very hot, and our gear dried quickly. The tent remained a rather misshapen lump, but it was adequate for our needs.

Highlights for us after the Breakfast and our own show for children the following day were Keith McKenry and Jan Wositzky at “Lilliput”…

(Keith McKenry)

(Jan Wositzky)

… and Geoffrey Graham and Carol Reffold at the Anglican Church.

(Geoffrey snuggles up to Maggie)

(Carol is joined by Christine Middleton with her beautiful harp)

A dip in the Newstead pool was a great way to wash away a few cobwebs (and beads of sweat) at festival’s end.

In no hurry to return to Melbourne, we took time out to marvel at the Malmsbury Viaduct on our way home.

Another great Newstead Live! lay behind us, but the memories (a somewhat mixed bunch, to be honest, what with the storm and all..) will remain forever.

Some photos from Will Moody

November 22nd, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, News, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Finally (I think!), here are some photos of the 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival from poet (and award winner) Will Moody.

Here is a great shot of C. J. Dennis Society Patron Ted Egan with Will Hagon…

…and here is a great group shot, taken just before the Awards Ceremony.

A couple of nice lunch table shots:

The view of the Awards Ceremony from the stage:

Finally, another shot of the Glugs:

Thanks, Will, for these great photos!

By the way, my website informs me that this is the 100th posting in my blog. Feels like an achievement in itself!

A few more of Shelley’s shots…

November 15th, 2017 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Photos, Stories for adults, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Finally, here are a few more of Shelley’s great shots.

Here is David Campbell (inaugural winner of the “Marian Mayne” prize for Adults’ Open Poetry, and current judge) with this year’s winner Shelley Hansen (who also won the prize last year).

Here is John Cotter performing at the Breakfast on Sunday morning.

This great group shot was taken at the end of the Breakfast by Rod Hansen (Shelley’s husband).

Rod Hansen

A stationary version of the “moving theatre” (blame the weather!) with Henry Lawson (David Campbell), C. J. Dennis (Stephen Whiteside) and ‘Banjo’ Paterson (Jim Brown).

Finally, Jim Brown closes the festival with “Dusk” by C. J. Dennis.

More “Glug” photos!

November 15th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Photos! Photos! Photos!

Since I sent my plea out to members for photos of the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh” at this year’s Toolangi Festival, the photos have been pouring in!

First, thanks to Bruce Argyle for this photo of Sym (Stephen Whiteside – that’s me!).

Here is an ensemble shot with Sym, a narrator (Maggie Somerville), King Splosh (Jim Brown), Queen Tush (Ruth Aldridge) and Joi (Daan Spijer).

Thanks to Shelley Hansen for this great shot of Joi.

Finally, thanks to Linda Wannan for these shots of Maggie Somerville; first as the ‘practical aunt’ (“The Growth of Sym”)…

…and looking marginally more subdued in her ‘narrator’ outfit.

Daan Spijer has also posted some excellent photos, including a three-shot composite, at DropBox, here:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qlgmw2rn55dh4n0/AAAK0rZMLheRNogBAbvV3hvfa?dl=0 .

Photographs – “The Glugs of Gosh”

November 13th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Songs, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Sunnyside, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

I was starting to worry that we had no photographic record of the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh” at the 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival, held to celebrate the centenary of its publication. Fortunately, C. J. Dennis Society member Will Hagon has come to the rescue!

Here we see, from left to right, Sir Stodge (David Campbell), a narrator (Maggie Somerville), King Splosh (Jim Brown), and another narrator (Ruth Aldridge), in “The Swanks of Gosh”.

Now we move on to “The Seer”, with narrators Jim Brown and Ruth Aldridge, and the Mayor of Quog (Daan Spijer).

The climax is reached in “Ogs”, with the “Og” audience throwing stones at the Glugs!

Here are Sir Stodge (David Campbell), a narrator (Maggie Somerville), Sym (Stephen Whiteside), King Splosh (Jim Brown), Queen Tush (Ruth Aldridge), and a Glug with a mole on his chin (Daan Spijer).

Alas, Sir Stodge has been stricken in the chest by a stone!

(Note the blurring of the faces due to movement – evasive action, or simply hilarity?)

And here are the stones that caused all the damage!

Thanks again to Will Hagon for saving the day!

Mary Gilmore Festival (Crookwell, NSW)

November 7th, 2017 | Camping, Festivals, Mary Gilmore, Music, Photos, Songs

Early on the morning of Friday, 27th October, Maggie Somerville and I headed north up the Hume Highway to Crookwell in New South Wales for the Mary Gilmore Festival.

Maggie has put a number of Mary Gilmore’s poems to music and the Festival Director, Trevene Mattox, was keen for us to attend. (There is also ample scope for a poet at the festival.)

To get to Crookwell, you go past Yass (not through it, as we did; it is a very pretty town, but does not get you any closer to Crookwell, as we found) and leave the highway at Gunning. You then climb steadily for an hour or so through open country until you reach Crookwell, at an elevation of about a thousand metres.

After erecting our tent at the Showgrounds, we drove into town for the opening of the festival at the art gallery by the local member of parliament, The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Member for Hume.

Angus made the point that, while Dame Mary Gilmore was undoubtedly a highly admirable woman, she and he differed in their political views.

The following morning, we were invited to perform to the local market goers. Maggie sang a number of her songs to an appreciative audience.

The Reserve Bank was even in attendance showing off the new banknotes, with Dame Mary Gilmore and the opening words of “No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest” on the ten dollar note.

During the afternoon we witnessed a showcase of the local youth talent, and in the evening we were treated to a performance by a women’s choir from Wollongong. The performance took place in a pavilion with a corrugated iron domed roof. Unfortunately a short, sharp rain shower completely drowned out the first item of the evening’s concert! The choir was superbly rehearsed, with numerous lavish but highly efficient costume changes taking place over the course of the show.

The following morning was the “Poets’ and Balladeers’ Breakfast” and Maggie and I had ample opportunity to perform. Maggie sang the remainder of her Mary Gilmore songs, while I performed a newish Ned Kelly poem that went down well.

At the end of the show, Maggie was asked to draw the raffle.

(I should add that this was also Maggie’s birthday!)

Alas, now it was time to leave Crookwell and begin the long drive back to Melbourne – in time to be at work at 9 am the following morning.

Maggie and I are extremely grateful to Trevene Mattox for giving us a lovely weekend. We were looked after extremely well, and had a wonderful time.

It was also great to catch up with poet Laurie McDonald and his wife, Denise, from Canberra. (Laurie and I shared MC duties for much of the weekend.) Laurie explained that the Crookwell festival used to have more of a bush poetry focus, but in recent years the emphasis has been on Mary Gilmore, and music. That made sense to me, because I have vague memories of submitting poetry to a competition in Crookwell in years past.

It was also wonderful to meet Stephen Lindsay, a local musician who owns a studio and is doing a great job recording local musicians and personalities on CD.

These rustic dwellings caught my eye as we left town.

Report: 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

November 4th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The tenth Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival took place at “The Singing Gardens” in Toolangi on the weekend of 21st and 22nd October, and was a great success.

This year we were celebrating the centenary of the publication of two of Dennis’ books – “The Glugs of Gosh” and “Doreen”.

The weather was cool and overcast, with some rain – nowhere near as good as the beautiful sunny weather we have had some years, but nowhere near as bad as the storms of last year.

It was wonderful to have C. J. Dennis Society Patron Ted Egan on hand to open the festival on Saturday afternoon. The festival began, as always, with the a
Awards Ceremony for the written poetry competition. A change this year was the introduction of an un-themed short story section (max. words 500), replacing the themed poetry section. It was generally felt that the theme of “The Glugs of Gosh” would just be too difficult. In spite of this, the winning entry, “Constable Og and the Bits and Bobs”, by David Campbell, was written on the theme of the Glugs, and was extremely clever and entertaining – a most deserving winner.

The Marian Mayne Prize (winner of the Open Poetry section) was won for the second successive year by Shelley Hansen with “My Name’s Doreen” – a view of Bill from Doreen’s perspective, written very much in the style of C. J. Dennis, and most fitting for the centenary of the publication of “Doreen”.

I was thrilled to win the “Adults Writing for Children” poetry section, both as judged by an adult (“The Fart from Outer Space”) and children (“The Fart from Snowy River”). Just how popular these poems really are with adults is somewhat questionable. I performed them both somewhat uneasily to the assembled throng on the day…

Another highlight of the ceremony was the success of the Williams family. Jan Williams, owner of “The Singing Gardens”, won Second Prize in the Short Story section with “Dear Mar” while her son, Michael, won Second Prize in the “Adults Writing for Children” poetry section, as judged by children, with “Lemonade Waterfall”.

Ruth Aldridge then performed “Doreen”. This is a slim booklet, comprising four poems only, published for the Christmas market in 1917. It relates a number of events in the life of Bill and Doreen, who are now married, and their young son, also “Bill”. Ruth did an excellent job, and it was a fitting tribute to the centenary of the publication of the book.

Another thrill for me was the presence of motoring journalist Will Hagon at the festival. I have been listening to Will on the ABC for many years. I have no interest at all in motor sports, except when Will is talking about them – then they suddenly sound very interesting indeed. Will has a beautiful speaking voice, and is a natural story teller. I had no idea that he is also a huge fan of C. J. Dennis! He performed “The Spoilers” on the Saturday afternoon, which was a great treat for all who were there to hear him.

The festival highlight commenced shortly after, with the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh”. We had rehearsed fairly intensely in the lead-up to the festival, but it is a long and complex work, and there were still plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong! The Glugs was the book of which Dennis himself was most proud, but it has never sold anywhere near as many copies as his most popular works, and various misgivings were expressed during rehearsals that we might struggle to hold the attention of our audience. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. We were greeted with rapt attention, and given a standing ovation at the conclusion!

Here is a performer’s eye view.

The Glugs is a flawed masterpiece. It is primarily a satire for adults, though it began as a story for children, and retains some of those elements, which is a little confusing at times. The Glugs live in the fictional land of Gosh, where they are ruled by King Splosh and Queen Tush. The knight Sir Stodge also has a major say in affairs. An independently minded Glug by the name of Joi is eventually hanged for his treasonous thoughts, but his son, Sym, similarly independently minded but less given to rebellion – and modelled very much on Dennis himself – is alternately hailed as a prophet and reviled. No doubt this reflects in part Dennis’ own mixed feelings following the reception he received after the publication of The Sentimental Bloke and Ginger Mick.

My initial plan had been to employ a professional actor to read the book, but C. J. Dennis Society member Maggie Somerville suggested that it would work well as a play, with various actors playing the principal characters. I felt she was definitely onto something, so cast Society members for the various parts. The final performance featured Jim Brown, Ruth Aldridge, Maggie, Daan Spijer, David Campbell and myself. Colin Lee attended several rehearsals, but was very sadly prevented by illness from performing at the festival. Terry Maher also attended rehearsals, but was unable to attend the festival.

Maggie and I had planned to sleep in the tea room, in the corner where the performance of the Glugs had taken place. As we lay down at the end of the day, we had no idea that another dramatic episode was about to unfold for us! A speaker box, perched on a tripod two metres above the ground, came crashing down without warning and struck us both on the head! Maggie instantly had a large egg, while I found myself with several bleeding scalp lacerations. I felt we both needed medical attention and, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to rouse doctors closer to home, we set off on the hour long journey to the Emergency Department at Maroondah Hospital in Ringwood.

Maroondah Hospital gets pretty busy on a Saturday night, and it took an hour to drive each way. It appeared that no serious harm had been done, but it was 3 am by the time we were back in Toolangi!

The Poets’ Breakfast the following morning went well.

David Campbell, on hearing of our plight the following morning, hastily penned a poem which he read to the delight of all.

Things That Go Bump!

When the sandman comes a’creeping
in the watches of the night
and you’re very soundly sleeping,
it’s not nice to get a fright.

But at times the gods get even
for the mischief that you’ve done,
and for Maggie and for Stephen
retribution weighed a ton!

For a speaker came a’calling
as they slumbered in their bed,
and they thought the sky was falling
as it cracked them on the head.

“Bloody hell!” poor Stephen shouted.
“What in heaven’s name was that?
For it seems that we’ve been clouted…
I forgot to wear my hat!”

Meanwhile Maggie lay there, aching,
as a lump began to grow,
and she cried “My head is breaking!
What has caused this awful blow?”

And then Stephen said “I’m shattered,
but the truth we have to face
is I think that we’ve been battered
by the fart from outer space!”

The “Moving Theatre”, featuring C. J. Dennis (myself), ‘Banjo’ Paterson (Jim Brown) and Henry Lawson (David Campbell), was scheduled to take place after lunch. However, the rain and cold meant that we’d be confined to the marquee, and there wouldn’t be much moving. Fortunately, there was plenty of theatre. Another highlight featured Will Hagon as, without any warning, C. J. Dennis invited him to take centre stage and talk about the types of cars that Dennis, Paterson and Lawson might have been driving in the 1920s. Suffice to say, Will rose to the occasion splendidly! I was particularly fascinated to learn that the Holden company had been present in Australia for many decades prior to the introduction to the motor vehicle, fashioning leather for saddles, bridles, etc.

Will and I had an opportunity to continue our conversation later in the afternoon.

(Photo courtesy Maggie Somerville)

Maggie Somerville and Cathy Phelan did a beautiful job of helping the children to perform a ballet to “The Glug Quest” from “The Glugs of Gosh”. Maggie sang selected verses she had put to music, while Cathy had choreographed the dance and taught it to the children, and helped with costumes.

Jim Brown then wound up proceedings with his traditional performance of C. J. Dennis’ “Dusk”.

All in all, it was another successful and highly memorable festival!

Here is a full list of the winners of the poetry competition.

Results – Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Competition 2017

Open Poetry Award

First – “My Name’s Doreen” (Shelley Hansen)
Second – “The Busker and the Bikies” (Will Moody)
Third – “The Gravedigger” (Will Moody)

Open Short Story Award

First – “Constable Og and the Bits and Bobs” (David Campbell)
Second – “Dear Mar” (Jan Williams)
Third – “The Piano Player” (Shelley Hansen)
Honourable Mention – “Our Singing Garden” (Ruth Aldridge)

Adults Writing for Children (adult judging)

First – “The Fart from Outer Space” (Stephen Whiteside)
Second – “The Kids that Rescued Easter” (Jackie Hosking)
Third – “The Fart from Snowy River” (Stephen Whiteside)
Fourth – “The Glogs of Gush” (David Campbell)
Highly Commended – “Grandpa’s Farm” (Jenny Erlanger)
Highly Commended – “Bush Tucker” (Jenny Erlanger)

Adults Writing for Children (as judged by children)

First – “The Fart from Snowy River” Stephen Whiteside)
Second – “Lemonade Waterfall” (Michael Williams)
Third – “The Kids that Rescued Easter” (Jackie Hosking)

Poems by Students in Primary School

First – “Bushranger’s Delight” (Max Bryant)
Second – “Water from the Rain” (Megan Vo)
Third – “The Land Down Under” (Jun Bok)
Highly Commended – “How Gold Changed Australia” (Micah Foreman)
Highly Commended – “Falling” (Daria Day)

Poems by Students in Secondary School

Honourable Mention – “Spring is Here” (Taylah – Williams-Benjamin)

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to all those who entered.

Thanks also to the judges: David Campbell (Open Poetry), Daan Spijer (Open Short Story, Students’ Poetry), Barry Carozzi (Adults Writing for Children – adult judging), students of Millgrove Primary School (Adults Writing for Children – as judged by children)

The festival booklet, containing all the winning poems, together with judges’ comments, can be purchased for $10 by writing to:

Jan Williams
“The Singing Gardens”
1694 Healesville-Kinglake Road
Toolangi
Vic. 3777

(PH: 0359629282)

Finally, thanks also, of course, to Jan Williams, her family, and her tireless band of supporters for continuing to make the festival the great success that we have become accustomed to enjoying.

Vale Hugh McDonald

November 21st, 2016 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, News, Photos, Songs, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

My dear friend Hugh McDonald died last Friday night.

All those who knew Hugh well knew the end was near, but still it was a shock to receive the news from Rebecca this morning.

Hugh is best known as a member of the former folk-rock group Redgum, and writer of the classic Australian song, “The Diamantina Drover”, but he was, of course, so much more.

Hugh was a great admirer of Henry Lawson, and indeed created an album of songs based on Lawson’s poems. I always felt “The Diamantina Drover” was a “response” to the “call” of Lawson’s “Knocking Around”.

Hugh was one of the few people who made me feel a bit ‘special’. I can’t deny there was an element of bathing in the light of his celebrity. “What does this famous rock star want to hang out with me for?” He was always pleased to see me, ready for a cuppa and a chat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was my poetry that first led me to him. I spent much of the late 70s and early 80s hanging around folk/bush bands, trying to persuade them to put my poems to music. Eventually, after giving up on some of the bigger names, I turned to the smaller fry. Hugh was playing with “Moving Cloud” at the time, and I approached him one evening after a gig at the Dan O’Connell. Somewhat surprisingly, he expressed an interest in hearing my work.

We met a couple of times after that, and he started putting one of my songs – a sort of parody of the life of Captain Cook – to music. He played an unfinished version of the song to me on one occasion, but shortly after he rang to tell me he would not be able to finish the song, as he had received a call from Redgum, and they wanted him to join them.

We lost touch after that, and I followed his career, like so many others, through radio and vinyl. Many years later – long after the breakup of Redgum – we made contact again. I heard him being interviewed about his Lawson album by the Coodabeen Champions on ABC Radio one Sunday night. I wrote to the ABC, they passed my letter on to him, and soon we were back in contact again.

Hugh played at my sister’s wedding – where he was one-man juke box! – and at a close friend’s 50th birthday party.

When I was looking for a music soundtrack for a demo of my collection of poems for children, it was Hugh that I turned to.

In spite of all this, however, it is only in the last couple of years that we have become really close. When Maggie Somerville and I decided to put together a CD based on the work of C. J. Dennis, I persuaded Maggie to record it with Hugh. We recorded it over the following twelve months, and the recording sessions were highly enjoyable – occasionally riotous! – occasions. He also graciously helped us to launch “The Two Bees” at the Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival in 2015.

Console 1

Violin

Guitar

Saucepan

(Hugh was always game to try something new. Here he is playing the saucepan…)

Gourd

(… and here the gourd.)

Toolangi 2

Toolangi 1

(Thanks to Margaret Voake for the last two of these photos, both taken at Toolangi.)

Hugh’s technical mastery was not confined to music instruments. He was a wizard on the computer in his studio, and was always seeking to master new skills. (He also, it must be said, gained great satisfaction from restoring discarded vacuum cleaners to good working order.) Keen to learn another new skill, he offered to make some videos for Maggie and me to help us promote the CD. Apart from the bright red music stand situated forlornly in the middle of the field of vision, he did a great job!

Making video

(Thanks to Trevor Pearson for this photo.)

More recently, he has been helping Maggie to complete her second original CD. He was really hoping to complete it before he died. Alas, this was not to be.

Hugh and I were a similar age, and both sons of doctors. (Hugh’s father was a GP in Kerang, a Victorian country town.) Our paths had been very different, however. I had become a doctor myself, while he had followed the path of musician and artist. Hugh was fascinated with science, and medical science in particular. Quackery infuriated him, and he did all he could to expose it when he encountered it. We occasionally reflected on how our lives might have been if he had become a doctor, and I had followed the path of the artist in a more committed manner. I have no doubt he would have made an excellent doctor. He followed the course of his illness and its treatment intensely, and with a degree of detachment that was quite admirable.

It is hard to believe he is gone. I know it will take me a long time to come to terms with his death. I feel a large chunk of me has gone with him. My heart goes out to Rebecca and the rest of his family. Their only consolation can be that they had the great pleasure and privilege of knowing such a wonderful fellow.

Rocking chair

(Thanks to Margaret Voake for this photo, too – also taken at Toolangi.)

Hugh's guitars